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Who, me? [userpic]

In which I encounter modern game controllers

February 25th, 2007 (10:43 pm)
quixotic

current location: The Couch
current mood: curmudgeonly

I've been writing some simple computer games for my kids (I discovered PyGame), and the current project seemed to call for a joystick. So, Arthur and I went to CompUSA to pick one that would fit his hand.

Now, I'm really not a video gamer. I haven't bought a computer game since Civilization: Call to Power got ported to Linux in 1999 or so; and I haven't owned a computer with a joystick since my old TRS-80 Color Computer. So I'm really out of the loop on the state of the art here. That being said:

What the bleep kind of game requires a controller with two joysticks, ten buttons, and a D-pad? I can maybe see having lots of buttons, and I suppose a D-pad is useful in places where you want something more discrete than a joystick—but two joysticks? What do you use them for? What kind of brain upgrade do you need to manipulate both of them with any coherence?

And that was the normal option; controllers like that took up maybe twice the shelf space of the joysticks (even though joysticks are larger individually).

Any of you serious gamers want to explain this one?

Comments

Posted by: C. Virtue (cvirtue)
Posted at: February 26th, 2007 12:08 am (UTC)
Foglio

Plus the one you brought home only needs to be colored pink to be illegal to sell in Alabama.

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: February 26th, 2007 07:56 pm (UTC)
For those of you following along at home

For those who want to see what cvirtue is talking about:

For the kids, I got a Logitech Attack 3 joystick; for myself (for development use), I got a Logitech Dual Action gamepad (basically a USB version of the PS2 controller...and I really want to put a / before that 2). The gamepad was cheaper and more portable—which is important, since I do much of my hacking on the train—but it's what really set off this rant.

Posted by: metahacker (metahacker)
Posted at: February 26th, 2007 12:35 am (UTC)
keys

Let's look at my current low-level addiction, Deus Ex. (I'm only *5* years behind.) It's a PS2 game, so it uses their controller -- two analog sticks, a D pad near the left thumb, four colored buttons near the right thumb, two buttons for the left fingers, and two buttons for the right fingers. Finally, each joystick can be *pressed in* for another two buttons. Note that all buttons except those two are pressure sensitive(!), giving a dizzying amount of control.

Left joystick is motion. Right joystick is looking. This gets intuitive after a while, and makes lateral motion and sniping pretty easy. It does take some practice -- thumbs of Gen X and older people are not naturally dextrous; those of the Playstation Generation have more neurons allocated to them...

The D-pad controls inventory/guns -- cycle through active weapons, drop/throw what you're holding, or sheath what you're holding. Natural grouping here, though I still sometimes throw my favorite gun by accident.

The four buttons on the right thumb access your super-power menu, turn on your superpowers, twiddle doors and switches, and access your detailed inventory. (Once in inventory, the PS2-standard "D-pad + X and O to navigate" applies.)

Left-finger buttons control "what's left"; L1 is jump, L2 is lean/aim. R1 is fire/activate items you're holding, R2 is use your weapon scope if any.

L3 (the joystick "push" button) is crouch. I push this by accident a lot when under stress in the game. R3 is reload. Neither really make sense, but oh well.

Oh. And Select, which brings up maps and your journal, plus Start, which brings up the save-game window.

...so, that's one game. 20 analog buttons, 4 digital buttons, plus two analog joysticks, all used and in fact some overloaded. (Though they don't use the analog-ness, unlike, say, the racing game I play.)

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: February 26th, 2007 01:29 am (UTC)
Sounds like mine

It's a PS2 game, so it uses their controller -- two analog sticks, a D pad near the left thumb, four colored buttons near the right thumb, two buttons for the left fingers, and two buttons for the right fingers.

Sounds like mine, yeah. It's a Logitech, and USB; but it's clearly imitating the PS2 design.


Finally, each joystick can be *pressed in* for another two buttons.

Oh, man, I thought I was imagining that one...<tries it/>...yup, mine does that, too.


Note that all buttons except those two are pressure sensitive(!), giving a dizzying amount of control.

Mine doesn't seem to have that—or, if it does, pygame doesn't support it. Can't say I expect to miss it.


Oh, and then I have a "mode" button, which is apparently some kind of shift key—again, pygame doesn't expose it.


Left joystick is motion. Right joystick is looking.

Um. Blink. Yeah, I guess I can see that.


Hmm. Maybe I'll hack up an extension to Inkscape to let me use the joysticks for control...I could, I don't know, drag and rotate at the same time, or something. Sounds like it'd be a lot more restful than one of these action games. :-)

Posted by: Alexx Kay (alexx_kay)
Posted at: February 26th, 2007 06:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Sounds like mine

Left joystick is motion. Right joystick is looking.

This bit has been bog-standard for many years now. Initial learning can take a while, especially for adults, but it's really no stranger than WASD + mouselook.

Working at a development house which grew up making PC games which could assume an attached keyboard, we find the number of buttons distressingly *low*. We have on occasion cut functionality due to not having a button to put it on.

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: February 26th, 2007 07:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Sounds like mine

Initial learning can take a while, especially for adults, but it's really no stranger than WASD + mouselook.

Snort. I had to look up WASD—I never even played Doom. It hadn't even occurred to me that, in a first-person shooter, you'd want to be able look and move in different directions.

Working at a development house which grew up making PC games [...] we find the number of buttons distressingly *low*.

Hmm. Do companies that started with console games agree? It sounds like it'd be the sort of resource that seems like a lot until you run out of it.

Posted by: Alexx Kay (alexx_kay)
Posted at: February 26th, 2007 07:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Sounds like mine

I never even played Doom
Ah, then I expect you never encountered Circlestrafing, either. I think that was invented during Doom's intial popularity. At least, that's when I first encountered it.
Do companies that started with console games agree?
I have no direct data, but indirect data is suggestive. Number of controller buttons increased with every generation prior to the current one. (Actually, the XBox 360 has one extra button, but it's a "meta" button, that invokes the general hardware interface, and isn't used by games.) Offhand, I can't think of any console game that *doesn't* make use of all the buttons. Of course, I haven't played all that many console games, comparitively, and a very non-random sample at that, so take it for what you will.

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: February 26th, 2007 07:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Sounds like mine

Ah, then I expect you never encountered Circlestrafing, either.

...OK, I can certainly see why two joysticks would be good for that.


And the moral of the story is, I should not try to get into action games. I never even managed to do very well with the relatively simple arcade games of the 80s. (Of course, that was partly because I couldn't afford much practice; but the flip side is that I probably don't have the reflexes I did then. :-)

Posted by: Justin du Coeur (jducoeur)
Posted at: February 27th, 2007 11:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Sounds like mine

Offhand, I can't think of any console game that *doesn't* make use of all the buttons.

Actually, DDR only makes use of a fairly small subset -- six buttons, I believe, and that's counting the four cardinal joystick directions as "buttons". That's down from seven in the first incarnation of the game: they took out the use of the "start" button, instead overloading the X button.

Granted, it's a *very* unusual game and UI, but it's interesting that (AFAIK, admittedly -- I haven't experimented deeply) they deliberately *don't* use four of the buttons that are available on the standard dance pad, itself a smallish subset of the normal controller. The result is a game whose UI is unusually intuitive and easy to pick up: one "joystick", plus two buttons that are conceptually "select" and "back"...

Posted by: Alexx Kay (alexx_kay)
Posted at: February 27th, 2007 11:47 pm (UTC)

A good example. And it brings to mind another, of course, that being Guitar Hero (I don't know exactly how many 'buttons' they use, but it's almost certainly less than 10).

There probably exist lots of games that don't use all the buttons. But as a fairly sophisticated gamer, and one who plays pretty complex games, it's rare for me to encounter any.

Posted by: Justin du Coeur (jducoeur)
Posted at: February 28th, 2007 12:28 am (UTC)

Roight -- whereas I'm a pretty strict "casual" gamer (in particular, I'm unwilling to put in the time that most serious games take up), so I have somewhat more visibility into that end of things. There's probably a gulf between the simplest games you normally play (controller-wise), and the most complex ones I do. My games are all things like DDR, Frequency and Flipnic: relatively abstract, with relatively simple control UIs...

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